Zoom simul: Learning to embrace imperfection

As a follow-up to our post on consecutive interpreting via Zoom, we are now featuring a guest post by the wonderful team of interpreters behind trying to teach us all how to use the simul interpreting function in Zoom. Without further ado, please read below for this guest post by Ernest Niño-Murcia (his bio is at the very end of this post).
Photo courtesy of Tamber Hilton. Zoom demo with Judy and Anabella. Our colleague Aimee Benavides could not appear because she was on a paid job interpreting her local school board meeting simultaneously via Zoom.

The current pandemic has made Zoom's video conferencing technology suddenly ubiquitous. Something that you maybe did a webinar on a few times per year is now an everyday resource and a key part of colleagues' livelihood. In a stroke of fortuitous timing, right about the time the outside world started locking down, some colleagues and I discovered that Zoom offered a simultaneous interpreting feature within its platform. Extremely curious (and suddenly with a lot of time on our hands) we logged on with a and began experimenting. We grew our knowledge of the platform through these working sessions and also by eventually hosting demos for other colleagues, finding that teaching also helped us learn. Soon after we were doing our first paid jobs via Zoom simultaneous. We’d like to take this opportunity to reflect and share some points from our experience learning, teaching and using Zoom’s simultaneous function.

Photo by Ernest. Civil mediation session featuring interpreter interface. Shared with permission.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Zoom's simultaneous interpretation capabilities, here is the elevator pitch version (maybe slightly longer. Long elevator ride in a big building or the elevator gets stuck but not for so long that you start to freak out). Note that this is a general overview and not an exhaustive how-to. The exact how-to of setting up and running interpretation in a Zoom meeting is laid out in Zoom’s official instructions.  A Zoom user with an eligible paid account (for individuals, the cheapest would be a Pro plan with webinar add-on totaling about $55/month) can enable interpretation account-wide and then as a feature in a particular meeting or webinar. Once actually in the meeting, the person who set the meeting (known as the host) can turn on interpretation and designate one or more of the participants to act as interpreter(s) to/from one or more of the designated languages.  The interpreter then sees this notification:

Once they accept, they are given a simple interface that controls which channel their output is going to be heard in:

The rest of the participants are then presented with the option of choosing an audio channel for purposes of interpretation:

Selecting a channel allows participants to listen to the interpreter when they are working into that language, as well as hear the other participants in their channel and possibly participants in the other channel (if they choose). Once the interpreter is set up and participants have chosen their channel, you can be off and running with a multilingual meeting that is being interpreted seamlessly for all parties in real time.

Sounds like a dream solution that will revolutionize the way we work and do business, right? Well, yes and no.

  • While Zoom offers a smooth, affordable solution for simple interpreting assignments, it is still at its core a videoconferencing platform with an interpretation feature grafted on, in contrast to existing remote simultaneous interpreting platforms built from the ground up specifically for interpreting. This distinction is especially highlighted by the fact that INTERPRETERS CAN’T HEAR EACH OTHER in Zoom, with serious implications for team interpreting and relay. Monitoring your interpreting partner will require some ingenuity on your part (and a second device). There are additional issues to take into account. 
  • To participate in an online event interpreted through Zoom in any role (speaker, listener, interpreter, host) participants cannot receive their audio via a phone line or connect via Zoom´s simplified browser interface. These options that make conventional Zoom events more accessible actually become obstacles to effective simultaneous and necessitate client education. Menus and buttons will look different depending on whether people are connecting via a tablet, smartphone or computer (all with Zoom downloaded). 
  • Zoom's option to designate an interpreter by their email before the event can run aground if that email isn´t connected to the Zoom account that person then uses to join the meeting. These are not insurmountable obstacles, but they do highlight the need for careful study and practice on the platform before you attempt to do it live. 
  • Once you fully understand not just how Zoom simultaneous works but how it can break down, you can give clear guidance to clients at different stages of the planning process if you are given a seat at the table, from determining which platform to use (and that may mean steering them away from Zoom), to instructing participants before the meeting to ensure a smooth launch and walking people through the various functions once in the meeting. Note that this is a value-added service that goes beyond the scope of interpreting and should be compensated accordingly (especially if your event is hosted on the Zoom account you are paying to maintain).
We received a message from a colleague who received a last-minute request from a client to interpret an event via Zoom. While we were able to guide him through the basics of hosting, interpreting and listening, the meeting was still a failure because of a lack of knowledge and guidance for the client.

When we asked how the meeting had gone, he wrote:

The people my client is working with set up the call and, of course, didn't know to enable the interpretation prior to the meeting. When I got on, I told them about it. They made me a cohost figuring that I could set it up on my end but, of course, I couldn't... My client assured me that this will never happen again.   

We invite you to watch a video of our recent webinar for the University of Arizona, ¨Expand your Toolkit: Zoom for Remote Simultaneous Interpreting¨ and reach out to us at training@TEAlanguagesolutions.com if we can be of assistance in helping you master this new tool.

Ernest Niño-Murcia is a federally certified Spanish court interpreter, conference interpreter and interpreter trainer based in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. He is currently interpreting Governor Kim Reynold's biweekly press conferences live over the air for Iowa PBS. Additionally, Ernest is a Jeopardy! Champion (2012), whose greatest achievement on the show was beating an attorney to the buzzer to answer "co-defendant" in the "11 letter words" category.¨


Jesse Tomlinson on June 30, 2020 at 7:05 AM said...

Yes, yes and more yes! Thank you interpreter team extraordinaire!

Anabella on June 30, 2020 at 10:22 AM said...

Thank you for this post. I am happy to report that I have started hosting my own Zoomterpreters sessions to learn and practice with colleagues. I will send this blog post to the gang. Thank you Ernest, Tamber and Aimee for being such generous colleagues and inspiring us to stick together, learn and be better in this weird times.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 13, 2020 at 12:47 AM said...

@Jesse: Our pleasure!

@Anabella: Glad you like, dear Anabella, and thanks for being part of the awesome training session. Yes on spreading the word and on learning from each other! We've learned a ton, too.

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